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50 years ago, tragedy that shook sports world

South Boston News
David Griffith Jr. / November 18, 2020
This past weekend, Marshall University won its football game and paused to remember the 50th anniversary of one of the most tragic events in modern college sports history.

The late Dave Dearing Griffith Jr., a member of Thundering Herd football program from Clarksville, was aboard a charter jet carrying the Marshall football team when the aircraft crashed, killing all those aboard and shaking the college football world to its core.

Griffith’s body was not identified in the wreckage and he is buried with five other unidentified players in the Springhill Cemetery, according to Marshall University.

The tragedy is remembered with a memorial fountain on the Marshall campus.

“On a rainy hill side in Wayne County, W.Va., the lives of 75 people were lost in the worst single air tragedy in NCAA sports history. Among the losses were nearly the entire Marshall University football team, coaches, flight crew, numerous fans, and supporters. The event marked a boundary by which an entire community would forever measure time before or after ‘The Crash,’” the memorial reads.

The Marshall University football guide preseason paid tribute to Griffith before the 1970 season started, a testament to his playing prowess.

Wearing no. 81, the senior from Mecklenburg County won special praise from Thundering Herd head coach Rick Tolley.

The 208-pound, 5-10 Ferrum College transfer is “another hitter in the Ferrum tradition. He’s not particularly big, fast, strong or agile. He’s just a tremendous player.

“When Griffith hits, he hits with authority,” said Tolley, “and he’s always somewhere around the ball.”

The press guide quoted Tolley, “(Griffith) did an outstanding job for us last year, simply because he gives you an all-out effort for every minute that he’s in there.”

Griffith was “winner, having been a member of Ferrum’s JUCO national champs of 1968.”

Griffith never completed his final season.

The Marshall football team was returning Saturday night in November 1970 from a loss at East Carolina University. The charter jet was just minutes away from landing when the airplane crashed into a hillside shrouded by fog and rain.

The Marshall football program and the impact of this tragedy later became the subject of a 2006 Hollywood production, “We Are Marshall.”

Fast forward to 2020.

Marshall routed Middle Tennessee, 42-14 on the anniversary.

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